The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is just that, the battle of the five armies. Smaug makes a disappointingly brief appearance, lays waste to Laketown and that’s your lot. After all this is not the wyrm’s tale this is Thorin story and his descent into madness and the titular conflict.
The dwarf kings spiral of insanity is handled by whispered voices, longing looks at the reclaimed treasure and slow motion speeches that don’t really capture the psychosis that he is going through. Throughout his instability Bilbo is by his side trying to reach through to touch the core of the man that he once knew and in these scenes it is easy to see why director Peter Jackson was adamant in his desire to land Martin Freeman for the role of the diminutive hero. The English actor may have is detractors for always portraying the same character but here he encapsulates the very essence of the Halflings nature: peace loving, homely, steadfast, valiant and above all else just a good egg!
The Hobbit has much going for it, like its award winning predecessor Lord of the Rings, the production values are through the roof. New Zealand looks as beautiful and majestic as ever, the sound effects will whisk aficionados right back to Frodo’s attempts to destroy The One Ring and herein lies a treat for fans of the earlier films. Certain shots will appear startlingly familiar, whether on purpose or merely a coincidence is open to debate but playing that’s-that-shot-from-The-Two-Towers is an enjoyable pastime.
Two problems present themselves and these are problems carried over from An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Samug. One, like the source material, The Hobbit is primarily for young adults and the “humour” is out of place, lowering the tone somewhat. Alfrid is a coward and this is forced down your throat at every opportunity, the joke wears thin after about the third time! Secondly there are just too many dwarves. There’s Thorin: he’s in charge and very recognisable, then there is that one that has the hots for the divine Evangeline Lilly, then the old fella that offers good advice, then the Irish one that is in lots of things and then there is a bunch of others…
The main spectacle is the skirmish and what a spectacle it is! The blood and thunder of combat is expertly captured, after the initial clash of forces everything brakes down into a disorderly furore as attack and counter attack raise the pulse and quicken the heart rate. It might not have the despair of Helm’s Deep or the magnitude of Pelennor Fields but it delivers other little treats; those questioning Legolas’s involvement will be left placated after his energetic approach to warfare, as the clash of armies brakes down to singular combat it becomes intense and emotional.
Conclusion: The journey started slowly and the underlying problems remain but The Battle of the Five Armies delivers a satisfying conclusion and a welcome addition to fantasy genre. One word of caution, anyone expecting Beorn to live up to his reputation will be bitterly disappointed.